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Road diary: Three confessions from McCain's bus

  • Story Highlights
  • Ride on Sen. John McCain's "No Surrender" bus offers access to candidate
  • GOP hopeful makes a campaign swing through key state of South Carolina
  • McCain talks about everything from campaign finances to daughter's graduation
  • Biggest revelation: McCain a fan of TV show "Lost"
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By Peter Hamby
CNN
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COLUMBIA, South Carolina (CNN) -- Here are three things I learned about Sen. John McCain: He wears SPF 70 sunscreen. He looks vaguely like my uncle. And the water he drinks tastes like everyone else's.

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Sen. John McCain takes a sip of water aboard his campaign bus. A CNN producer accidentally finished it later.

I know this because I accidentally drank from McCain's bottle of water.

I was riding on the back of McCain's "No Surrender Express" bus when this happened, eating barbecue with the senator and Henry McMaster, South Carolina's attorney general and a McCain state chairman whose name and thick-as-mud drawl would make him perfectly suited to command a 40-gun Navy frigate circa 1812.

The two print reporters on the bus chose not to partake of this regional pork delicacy, perhaps because they were sick of the free barbecue at pretty much any campaign event in South Carolina. But McCain offered, and I hadn't eaten since I left Columbia for Florence earlier that morning. So I sat next to him and ate.

The allure of a campaign bus for most, I think, is pretty basic. Who wouldn't want to ride down U.S. 501 toward a town called Aynor on a hooked-up bus with comfortable leather adjustable seats while watching a wall-mounted TV that, in this case, was tuned to college football? Video See McCain talk about his tour »

But riding on a campaign bus, while nicer than a regular bus, is sort of like riding business class on Amtrak. The seats are indeed wide and comfortable, but the ride is still a bit shaky, and chances are you will end up eating a soggy bagel. Plus you are technically supposed to be working.

The allure of a campaign bus for a political reporter is access. That you have been granted a ride on the bus in the first place signals that the communications staff is ready to let you have more time with the candidate than the normal five- to 10-minute crush of standard media availability, maybe even as long as an hour to talk about everything from terrorism to political strategy to University of South Carolina football.

Some candidates stick to the script while others are more freewheeling. With McCain this is especially true.

There's a reason the press loved McCain during his insurgent campaign in 2000 -- he is often friendly, and he gives great quotes.

After steadying my DV camera while trying to take notes and sneak a few bites of barbecue in between, we worked through the topics each of us wanted to ask him about -- the state of McCain's campaign coffers, the entrance of Fred Thompson into the race, and Democratic Sen. Jim Webb's troop reduction amendment among many other things.

McCain then moved on to a more significant issue: his daughter's recent college graduation in New York.

"You know who the speaker was? Matthew Fox! The guy from 'Lost'! Yeah!"

The senator was genuinely excited.

"He's a Columbia graduate. And the guy, I thought he was a really nice guy. He flew overnight all the way from Hawaii where they were on the set of 'Lost,' spoke and turned around and flew back. I thought he was a pretty neat young man."

I asked McCain if he watched "Lost," although I really wanted to ask him if he ever watched Fox's previous show, "Party of Five."

That would have been real news.

"Oh, yeah. Yeah. I enjoy it," he said with enthusiasm.

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At this point, I got thirsty. I reached forward and grabbed the half-drunk bottle of water in front me, the one placed on the table in front of McCain, and downed the rest. Only after finishing did I realize I took a bottle of water with a man who could one day have access to the nation's nuclear arsenal.

I quietly placed the empty bottle back in its holder as we pulled into Aynor for a campaign stop at the town's annual hoedown. McCain didn't notice a thing. Then he asked his aide for some coffee before getting off the bus, probably a much-needed boost for several more hours of shaking hands. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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